Saturday, December 22, 2007

Wildcats still locked out, fall to NCSU 66-65

Closer. Bob McKillop's Wildcats are closer. Their 1-point loss to preseason Top 25 N.C. State did not completely transpire until the final 3.9 seconds when Gavin Grant gave the Pack a 66-65 victory with two free throws. Yet Davidson heads into the long, cold run of 18 brutal conference games with very little consolation. They now have six losses on the season and only one OOC win against a D-I opponent. The Wildcats have fallen a long way from their highly publicized romp on the outskirts of the Top 25. No one is competing with Kevin Cary and myself to get interviews anymore.

In their most recent loss to the Wolfpack, Davidson was once again led by their fantastic backcourt of Stephen Curry and Jason Richards. The two combined for 43 of Davidson's 65 points. Curry still ranks eighth in the country with 24.6 points per game, while Richards leads the nation with 8.7 assists per game.

Davidson recovered from a slow first half by shooting over 50% from three-point land in the second. Bryant Barr finished with three big trifectas, while Curry had seven, including the go-ahead shot with 43 seconds remaining in the game.

The image of this season continues to be one of an elusive puzzle piece. Although no team ever plays a perfect game, Davidson has always seemed one puzzle piece short of pulling off the big upset. Against North Carolina, they couldn't hit layups. Against WMU, Stephen Curry was taken out of the game with foul trouble. Against Duke, the team could not hit their normal percentage of free throws. Against Charlotte, Davidson could not play effective perimeter defense. Against UCLA, Davidson gave up dumb turnovers and allowed too many transition points. And against N.C. State, the entire Wildcat frontcourt was held to 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Yet, despite recognizable lapses from Davidson throughout each of these games, one can point to a specific play in each one where the opponent beat Davidson. UNC, WMU, Duke, Charlotte, UCLA and N.C. State all rose to the challenge at the end of the game and punched the Wildcats in the mouth with a gutsy play. Gavin Grant was shooting 65% from the line going into Friday. Yet, he went 8-8 and hit the game-winners with everything on the line and 3.9 seconds on the clock.

Over the last four years, Davidson has benefitted from a rising tide of college basketball where smaller schools have significantly caught up to larger programs in terms of player quality and the ability to make every game interesting. Davidson is one of several case studies of mid-majors who don't let national powerhouses push them around.

And yet, within these big games we have also seen examples of how hesitant the powers that be (major college AD's, NCAA, ESPN...) are of letting everyone feast at the table. Davidson is a great story, but they aren't supposed to really beat all those teams. Davidson is a few layups, bad fouls, and nagging injuries away from being the number 1 team in the country. A school with a gym that seats less than 6,000, a student body that worries more about homework than Stephen's autograph, and a lineup that doesn't exceed 6'8" should never be #1 in the country. So we aren't. The doors remain locked, and the ACC Store still sells its product and won't have to worry about competing with t-shirts featuring a "hopelessly outdated charcoal drawing of a cat head."

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